The Gift of Imagination

TOPICS: imagination, education, sir ken robinson

… kids will take a chance. If they don't know, they'll have a go. They're not frightened of being wrong. Now I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. But what we do know is if you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.
— Sir Ken Robinson.

Investigating other topics, I was reminded of this TED talk by Ken Robinson on education and imagination.

We are educating people out of their creativity.
— Sir Ken Robinson.

Stimulating yet sobering thoughts for me as the parent of an 8-yr-old in public school (made more poignant having just returned from lunch with my wife and a discussion of some of the pros and cons about homeschooling vs. public school). But also provocative from the perspective of a college-level instructor.

Is it possible that 2nd grade at the local public elementary school is somehow ruining my 8-yr-old's creativity? The school organizes classes in music and art each week and the teachers incorporate imaginative, creative exercises and activities into their daily teaching/learning plans. The classrooms are organized to allow and encourage socialization and small group work. The teachers are enthusiastic, sincere, and encouraging. Even the PE classes sound pretty fun (though the students like to complain about them).

And yet there is a palpable squelching of creativity. A gradual erosion of the kids' natural love of learning (which I mix into the general concept of creativity).

So what's happening? Is it a problem, as Sir Ken Robinson suggests, of over-emphasizing the analytical? Under-emphasizing motion, energy, music, dance, emotion, physicality? Under-appreciating all the various modes of learning, under-appreciating the various modes of learning about, and interacting with, the world and others?

I think the problems are much more insidious and challenging to address. In fact, for U. S. elementary and secondary education, I have to laugh somewhat bitterly when I think of Robinson's suggestion that we over-emphasize the analytical. In a generic, theoretical sense, I recognize the truth of his observation that an alien visitor might think the whole logical endpoint point of our educational system/process is the creation of college professors; but that would only be the conclusion from aliens with really sloppy thinking after a very superficial analysis. If such aliens looked carefully at the consistent outcomes, year after year, decade after decade, I think they'd come to the conclusion that we are instead intent on crushing students' natural love of learning (quite the opposite of the effect desired for a college instructor), perhaps with the overall plan of controlling or at least homogenizing the students.

And this is where I think we hit Robinson's perceived squelching of creativity.

But it's not a process of educating people out of their creativity, except in some ironic sense of "education." It's not a problem of, or a result of, over-emphasizing the analytical.

Instead, it's a problem born of mind-numbing bureaucracy, a glacial pace set for the educational process, and a mixture of culturally entrenched negative ideas about teaching and learning, all at least in part due to a number of questionable assumptions underlying the attempt to mass-produce so-called educated individuals in the same way we mass produce clothing, cars, and other commodities.

We "educate" kids in our public school system, not by over-emphasizing the analytical, but by treating the kids like just so many cattle to be organized and controlled. The (eventual) college professors are the students who survive the process despite years of intellect-degrading efforts by such an educational system.

For me, the real point of Robinson's story about the dancer and dance school is not that we should teach everyone to dance. But that each person has his/her own unique abilities, needs, and ways to excel. Our public school system is not set up to acknowledge, encourage, or take advantage of such abilities. Nor is it an adaptive system that will ever evolve to do so. The system itself is essentially starved of imagination.


Robinson, K. (2006). TED talk, available at http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

Robinson, Ken at http://sirkenrobinson.com/

TED biographical information on Sir Ken Robinson at http://www.ted.com/speakers/sir_ken_robinson.html